Supercar art under the spotlight in Sami Sasso's Dubai photo series

The photographer began the project to keep busy during the pandemic. Now, he's presenting different versions of it across the UAE

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When Lebanese photographer Sami Sasso moved to Dubai from Nigeria as a child in 1996, one of the first things that caught his attention about the city was its cars.

From glistening new German sedans to sleek Italian speedsters and souped-up Japanese sportsters, Sasso was struck by the menagerie wheeling across Dubai’s still-burgeoning highways. It was one of the things that drew him to photography — a desire to capture his awe of automotive design and aesthetics.

Fragment 64 is an updated version of the print developed as an accompanying piece for Sasso's exhibition at Kanvas. Photo: Sami Sasso

“As a teenager living in Dubai, I was surrounded by all the nice cars,” he says. “I asked my mom to get me a camera because I wanted to show people online all the cars that I’m seeing. I always felt an attraction towards the camera, but definitely, the main purpose was to shoot cars. I shot cars for a long time, eventually going to magazines. Nowadays, I shoot a lot for auctions.”

Sasso honed his craft over the years, exploring it as a medium of expression. At Sharjah's recent Xposure International Photography Festival, he presented his latest iteration of Fragment, a series of close-up photos of cars that span a colour gradient from the deep blacks of Shelby Cobras to Ferrari reds, Lamborghini yellows and the lime green of BMWs.

The series began in 2021 as a limited run of 25 fine-art prints, before being presented as a sprawling digital piece at Kanvas gallery in Dubai’s Al Quoz 1.

“It started as a pandemic project,” he says. “It was just something to get me out of the house and to shoot something. I wanted to do a study with colours. It was an eight-by-eight grid, so 64 pictures laid out as a gradient. The prints sold out very quickly. At Kanvas, they have these big empty walls with projectors that you can programme to do all kinds of stuff.”

At Kanvas, the work was projected in sets of nine across several walls. The gradient began with dark colours going to more bluish hues.

“There were cameras tracking you,” he says. “You could walk up to it, and it would detect you and it would open up the image in a larger scale. A new print version of the eight by eight accompanied the exhibition. It was a lot better in terms of grading. It was a lot smoother.”

Sasso also decided to take a flatter approach to the compositions. Whereas in the previous series, the fenders, air vents and other curves of the car were more apparent, Sasso focused more on the flatter aspects, to ensure the colour was the focal point of the photographs.

The early version of Fragment 64 had more curves and accents of each car, something that Sasso thought broke away from the colour-focused intent of the project. Photo: Sami Sasso

“The fragment series originally was automotive badges and different colours,” he says. “When I was shooting with Kanvas, I decided to keep it very simple: badge in the middle and colour on the side. This way, when you put them all together, it looks like a nice gradient. You don't have like random blacks in the arch of the wheel or you don't have like a grill breaking that colour spectrum.”

For Xposure International Photography Festival, Sasso took the series one step further. His portraits of colour were presented in a series of six lightbox screens that periodically circulated the photographs on each side.

“I picked the best of the best," he says. "I have a library of thousands of these images. Every time I go to a meet or shoot a car, I take a lot of photos. When you put them in 12 by 12 or eight by eight grids, the images become small, so you don’t have to worry about it looking good. But if you’re blowing it up in this big size, you have to be picky. I picked the best in terms of quality, composition and curation.”

The images on light boxes. Antonie Robertson / The National

The works have an abstract nature to them, especially when viewed from a distance. It is only at closer inspection, or if the photographs display the badge of an automotive maker, that it becomes obvious what the photographs are.

“It invites you to come up and look to it,” he says. “Sometimes it isn’t clear what it is, and then you see a McLaren or a Ferrari badge, and you start figuring it out like that. It presents an interesting dynamic between the viewer and photograph.”

The next evolution of the series, Sasso says, will be a 12 by 12 grid, displaying a colour gradient of 144 photographs. It was a vision that he had in the early days of the project, but which was shelved in favour of the exhibitions at Kanvas and Xposure.

“I’m planning a big road trip this summer," he says. "We’re taking two really nice classics and travelling from France to Mongolia. We’re going to be taking lots of pictures.”

Updated: February 18, 2023, 3:03 AM